Raising a lot more glasses to cognac


Cognac may not come immediately to mind when one thinks of the rapidly growing niches of alcoholic beverages. It should.

A little background. Cognac is a brandy, a grape-based product -- an "eaux-de-vie'' fermented like wine then twice distilled. By French law, supported by the World Trade Organization, the spirit can originate only in the town of Cognac and six surrounding viticultural areas.

There is more than one kind of cognac due to the variety of soils in the region. The grapes used are from several white wine varieties, principally the Ugni Blanc, known elsewhere as the Trebbiano grape. Cognacs must be aged in wood at least two years. Most producers use Limousin oak. Martell, for example, prefers the more aromatic Troncais oak.

According to the 2007 edition of "The U.S. Distilled Spirits Market: Impact Databank Review and Forecast" the market looks like this for cognac:

• It has posted 13 consecutive annual U.S. consumption gains.

• The U.S. remains its largest market despite its popularity in Asia with 4 million cases consumed annually.

• A demographic shift is holding steady in which younger Americans are consuming cognac as a main drink or main ingredient in a cocktail rather than merely as an after-dinner digestif.

• Cognac accounts for one-third of all brandy consumed by Americans.

Hennessy, Remy Martin, Courvoisier and Martell combined for 94% percent of the U.S. market last year, according to the report. While three-quarters of cognac volume in the U.S. is standard-priced VS (very superior) brands, much of the recent sales growth has been with VSOP (very superior old pale) and more upscale cognac, such as Napoleon and XO (extra old), according to Impact Databank.

Go here and type "cognac" into the search box to see my tasting notes on a couple of cognacs.
Jacques Menier (seen above), Asia Pacific sales director, presenting the new Martell Creation Grand Extra at an invitation-only dinner I attended earlier this year in Las Vegas. Go here to read my report on the event.

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